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Fentanyl Cravings: Symptoms, Timeline, & Getting Help

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

March 21, 2024 (Originally Published)

March 21, 2024 (Last Updated)

Table of Contents

Fentanyl cravings occur when someone who has developed physical dependence on the synthetic opioid discontinues use. Cravings are a normal response from a system that’s become dependent on opioids. Understanding how to stop fentanyl cravings and how to manage urges when they manifest could mean the difference between long-term recovery and repeated relapse.

Understanding Fentanyl Cravings

Fentanyl cravings are intense desires for the drug. Craving fentanyl occurs due to the highly addictive properties of the synthetic opioid and the brain’s adaptation to its continuous presence.

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Fentanyl acts on MORs (mu opioid receptors) in the brain, producing morphine-like effects, which contribute to its high potential for addiction. When someone stops using fentanyl, they may experience withdrawal symptoms, including strong cravings, which may manifest from 8 to 36 hours after the last use. These cravings are not only a physical response but also tied to the neurobiological changes in the brain associated with opioid dependence, making the management of withdrawal and prevention of relapse especially challenging.

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Fentanyl Cravings Symptoms

Fentanyl cravings symptoms may include:

  • Intense longing for fentanyl: This craving is much more than a simple wish to use drugs. Cravings involve a powerful, consuming need that can overshadow all other thoughts and desires.
  • Irritability or agitation: Minor annoyances can become major irritations, and a general sense of discontent can pervade, complicating social interactions.
  • Anxiety or depression: The emotional rollercoaster of fentanyl withdrawal can plunge people into episodes of deep anxiety or depression, as brain chemicals fluctuate wildly.
  • Restlessness: An inability to find peace or comfort, both physically and mentally, often leaving people feeling like they’re crawling out of their own skin.
  • Difficulty concentrating: The preoccupation with cravings and the discomfort of withdrawal can scatter focus, making it hard to complete tasks or maintain attention.
  • Physical discomfort or pain: Muscle aches, joint pain, and other physical symptoms can manifest, as the body signals its distress in the absence of the drug.
  • Sweating or chills: Fluctuations in body temperature, manifesting as episodes of sweating or chilling, commonly occur as the body’s regulatory systems are thrown off balance.
  • Nausea or vomiting: Gastrointestinal distress is a frequent physical symptom of fentanyl cravings, as the body attempts to purge toxins.

Fentanyl Cravings Timeline

The timeline for fentanyl cravings can vary significantly from person to person, depending on variables such as the duration and intensity of their use, as well as their physical and mental health. Generally, cravings can begin as early as a few hours after the last use and may peak in intensity during the first few days of withdrawal.

  • Initial 8 to 36 hours: Cravings begin to emerge as the drug starts to leave the system.
  • First week: Cravings can be intense as withdrawal symptoms peak.
  • Following weeks to months: While physical withdrawal symptoms may subside, psychological cravings can persist, potentially leading to relapse if not properly managed.

Fentanyl cravings can be triggered by various factors long after the physical withdrawal symptoms have subsided. Stress, environmental cues, or social situations associated with past drug use can all provoke a strong desire to use fentanyl again.

Fentanyl Cravings Treatment

The most successful approach to managing opioid cravings involves an integrated strategy of medication alongside counseling and psychotherapy. MAT (medication-assisted treatment) is proven effective for improving treatment retention and reducing the risk of relapse, as well as mitigating severe cravings. The medications commonly used in MAT include:

  • Methadone: Marketed as Dolophine and Methadose, methadone can mitigate opioid effects and is administered daily in liquid or pill form.
  • Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine – Subutex, Sublocade, or Brixadi – is available for daily oral intake or as a monthly injection. Buprenorphine helps alleviate cravings for fentanyl.
  • Buprenorphine/naloxone: Suboxone is a combination medication which contains buprenorphine with naloxone, an overdose-reversal medication, to prevent misuse.
  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone (Vivitrol) is administered monthly through injection and blocks opioid effects.

Both inpatient and outpatient rehab programs offer MAT and other interventions to help people overcome fentanyl cravings. Supplemental strategies beneficial in recovery include participation in 12-step programs, individual therapy, and group counseling. If mental health conditions co-occur with fentanyl addiction, integrated dual diagnosis treatment delivers the most favorable outcomes. Here’s how you can kickstart your recovery.

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Get Help for Fentanyl Cravings at Renaissance Recovery

Fentanyl cravings can be intense and feel overwhelming, so the best approach is to engage with fentanyl detox and rehab to streamline the process. We can help you with this at Renaissance Recovery in Southern California.

We can refer you to detox facilities in California, enabling you to address dependence on fentanyl with medical supervision, preparing yourself for ongoing treatment at our beachside facility in Huntington Beach, CA.

Choosing outpatient fentanyl rehab at Renaissance allows you to meet your everyday commitments while tackling fentanyl cravings and developing healthy coping mechanisms for ongoing sober living.

All fentanyl addictions are unique, so Renaissance treatment plans are personalized to reflect this. Expect to access the following therapies:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Talk therapies (CBT and DBT) 
  • Motivational therapies
  • Holistic therapies
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • One-to-one counseling
  • Aftercare planning

Call Renaissance today at 866.330.9449 and start recalibrating your life right away.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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